Forage & Feast: August

21 July 2020

This month’s foraging blog in partnership with Dave Winnard from Discover the Wild features ‘Penny bun’ and Chanterelle mushrooms as well as Rowan.

The unsettled and often wet weather in July means that August is an enticing month for a number of species that are highly sought after but can be elusive; mushrooms.

They are incredibly fussy, unlike plants which are very reliable in when they flower. Mushrooms can be early or late, or not even bother emerging unless the conditions are just the way they like them.

A wet, relatively cool (for the time of year) July has meant that it is well worth searching out a number of mushroom species and this month we will discuss two species and a plant - because as soon as I finish writing this it is guaranteed that it will turn very dry and hot (which is not great for the vast majority of mushrooms) so it is also handy to have plants to fall back on whilst you are out and about.

Before we begin a word of caution; there are over 15,000 species of fungi in the UK, 4000+ of these are larger fungi like mushrooms. It is vital if you are thinking about eating mushrooms from the wild that you only ever eat something YOU know 100% exactly what it is.

Check your findings with a good field guide and reliable online sources and if in doubt, leave it out. My Grandma always taught me to learn a dozen species and stick with those, and they need to be common, tasty and unmistakable. Following her advice, I have never become unwell.

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

It is funny how most people know this species by its Italian or French name, Porcini and Cep. Whilst they may sound exotic this species is surprisingly common, especially where there are Beech or Spruce trees.

It is a member of the bolete family, this group of mushrooms have pores rather than gills, like a typical mushroom, so they have a sponge like look under the cap to them.

The bolete family contains many tasty species, but also some which are poisonous, generally the poisonous members would turn blue when damaged, the Penny Bun does not. There are other non-blueing members of this family, so what you need to look for with the Penny bun is a chestnut cap, large bulbous stem which is covered around the apex of the stem with a white ‘net-like’ structure. The pores begin white but become yellow with age.

Perhaps the biggest ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of mushroom foraging, one large specimen can weigh close to 1kg, so only taking one (though they often grow in large numbers) makes a meal in itself. Drying the Penny Bun also is very useful in cooking, the flavour is often enhanced so you only need a few dried slices to make a real difference. Once dried they can be found up to make Penny Bun powder which a small amount to any meal has a huge impact.

Drying can be done most easily in a dehydrator (which you can buy for around £40 upwards), done in the oven on the lowest setting with the door open (you must keep an eye on them though), or any way you would normally dry herbs.

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Another iconic mushroom, sometimes known in cooking as Girolle. This delightful species is small but numerous, often occurring in great numbers where they are found. They are like small yellow trumpets and it is said when you get a handful together they smell of apricots.

They do not have real gills, they may look like them, but actually they are not, this is a feature that separates them from other species which look similar (like the False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca), which is orange, not yellow, and has proper gills).

It is a golden egg yellow all over, except for the flesh which is paler, the cap starts rounded but becomes flatter with age, sometimes becoming chalice shaped. If the cap has a slight lilac hue to it you may have found the Amethyst Chanterelle (Cantharellus amethysteus), which is just as common in Greater Manchester and just as good to eat.

They are often found in woodland with birch, oak, beech and hazel, but due to their size and colour, they can look very similar to fallen yellow leaves on the floor, so can be very well camouflaged. The taste of this mushroom is fantastic and is one of the best wild eating mushrooms (I prefer the texture of these to any other) and if you dry them and use them then I think that flavour comes out even more.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

The humble Rowan tree is common wherever you go, from the moorland edges right into city centre, where they are commonly planted as they are small trees and look great in blossom and when in berry.

It produces cream coloured flowers in the spring which develop into large red bunches of berries. The bark is generally smooth and the leaves are pinnate (opposite, a bit like a ladder) in sets of 5-9 with ‘teeth’ on the edges, they are smaller than those of the native Ash. The leaves also help to separate it from other similar red berry fruiting trees in the same family, like Common Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) which has a single leaf rather than being made up of lots of leaflets.

In August the berries of the Rowan are becoming ripe, producing lots of orange-red bunches which cover the tree.

Historically the Rowan tree was thought to ward of witches and evil spirits as the bottom of the berries have a pentagram on them, a symbol to protect you from witchcraft, and so for that reason they were commonly planted in front gardens, especially in Gaelic countries.

The berries are poisonous to eat straight of the tree, but once cooked they have a wonderfully fruity and gamey flavour. Rowan and Crab Apple Jelly is perhaps the most common recipe to use the berries, often to go with a Sunday Roast, but they can be used to make a vinegar infusion and in parts of Eastern Europe a liqueur is made with them.

NOTE: As always these are just an indicator as to what to look for this month, to identify your finds properly use a reputable field guide or trusted source and only ever eat something from the wild that YOU know 100% what it is.